Heroes of the Storm came to my attention at Spiel in 2013 when I visited the stand of Mindwarrior Games. Their passion and enthusiasm for their games really caught my eye and seeing they carry both board and role playing games was an added bonus.
They were kind enough to provide a review copy of the game and, at last, I’ve managed to get to it and read it.
When I interviewed the designer, Mike Pohjola, at the same convention, he told me it was a game specially designed for younger and inexperienced players. Another box ticked for me. I think there aren’t enough games for new players and even less for young ones, so I was immediately keen on it.
So how does it fare?
The game comes in a gorgeous box. The cover artwork is exciting, portraying a warrior facing an overwhelming and threatening monster. It certainly screams ADVENTURE at you and, although the box feels a bit light, it’s also big enough to keep all your gaming accessories. The cardboard is not massively thick, though, so treating it with a bit of care wouldn’t go amiss.
Production wise, though, things do take a bit of a downturn from here.
The box contains two booklets, a map, a pack of character sheets and a set of dice. The dice are pretty standard and cheap, which is what I’d expect from a beginner’s set. The map is rather nice, though. The double paged map pictures a nice portion of Nathar, the world where the action takes place.
The character sheets, ten of them, are OK, but nothing amazing. The graphic design is simple and it doesn’t have any thematic decorations or anything. However it has a very interesting thing. The game uses two ways to measure damage, hit points and balance points. The sides of the sheets feature a scale with the hit and balance points so a paper clip can be attached to each side and help track the points won and lost.
Then there are two full-colour books, one for the players and another for the game master. Surprisingly, and disappointingly, they are just staple bound. At 60 pages per book, they deserve perfect binding at least. The covers are made of the same material as the rest of the pages, so there’s no protection at all.
The artwork is gorgeous. The illustrations are truly lovely and the paintings are excellent. A very good amount of them too!
However the layout is absolutely terrible. A single column layout that hasn’t really been looked after. At all. I hate to say it, but it’s one of the most uninspiring layouts I’ve ever seen in an RPG. To put it bluntly, it looks like they used Word to layout the books. And the editing has also been overlooked. Quite a few spelling and typographical mistakes are scattered throughout the books.
The game mechanics are fairly simple; it’s just a d20 based system, very simplified to make it easy to grasp and, credit to the designer, it gets explained step by step not just by rules, but with examples that become increasingly more complex. This has been done quite carefully and I reckon pretty much any child over 8 would be able to get how this game works.
Character creation is a simple enough affair and it’s described in great detail and one step at a time so it can be taken as a group activity too. Although not a 10 minute job, it’s something that can easily be accomplished in just an hour or slightly over, so younger players won’t get bored with the process.
There are seven character classes: Knight, Wizard, Ranger, Swineherd, Stahlo (orcish looking creatures), Whiskerling (think a bipedal fox) and Arni (a deva sort of humanoid). The fact that it doesn’t have Elves, Dwarves and other, more traditional, fantasy races is kind of great. As much as I have nothing against traditional fantasy, I like that the author has gone a step further to give something different and original.
The books come with everything you need and the only thing that’s lacking a bit is the amount of spells. 12 grade one and 11 grade two spells is all they provide. They are all useful, though, so levelling up can turn character into powerful spell-casters.
The world is generic but well built. An evil emperor, Zangavius, has taken over the land and a crew of evil knights is oppressing the citizens. There’s a group of rebels, the Greenhoods, who hide in Smokywood. Needless to say, ideally the players will join the rebels, since the whole thing has been organised to be run that way.
The Game Master’s Guide gives some advice on running the games, creating atmosphere, dealing with the unexpected and general gaming guidelines. All very welcome and generic information that won’t be of any use to experienced gamers, but well thought out for new players. Enough details to give a good idea, but not so much that becomes overwhelming.
Then there’s an adventure that runs in 6 chapters. Although they’ve been designed to last one session each chapter, they can easily be longer as the adventure progresses. Although there’s nothing overtly original about the adventure, the design is very good. Each chapter introduces the players to new elements of the game, including more complex manoeuvres, increasingly difficult encounters, how to create your own monsters and how to use locations.
The way it’s been divided between the two books, with the illustrations in the Player’s Guide and the adventure itself in the Game Master’s Guide. This could present a problem if the GM needs to see the illustrations and maps, but everything has been carefully thought out and referenced so it’s easy to find for both players and GM alike.
Although the game is well targeted and it has some terrific ideas, the production does get in the way of the whole experience, I am sorry to say.
The whole thing is in desperate need of an art director. The artwork is lovely, but that’s where it ends. The format is too big for children – the books are bigger than a standard A4 size – and the layout is very uninspiring. For a game that’s meant for the younger players, they aren’t that robust either, so I can see them getting torn.
The game itself is fine. Fine indeed, I’d say. It’s easy to get to grips with. The division between the Player and the Game Master’s Guide is well thought out, the classes are very nice and with plenty of opportunity to expand… everything is there!
I don’t know what the prize of this game is, but anything around £20 (around $30) would be a good investment if you have younger kids who are into fantasy.
Mixed feelings for a mixed game torn between good game design and mediocre production values.
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